The Portal June 2018 - Page 7

THE P RTAL June 2018 Page 7 T he P ortal visits Ely & St Etheldreda’s Shrine  Jackie Ottaway and Ronald Crane spent a happy time in Cambridgeshire  E veryone has their favourite cathedral. For Ronald, it is Ely. Born just up the road, he was taken to the “Ship of the Fens” aged four. It was a Sunday School outing and he sat under the canon on the green in front of the Cathedral with his packed lunch, However, Ronald screamed that he did not want his picnic. He wanted to go into the Cathedral. His mother said it was the only time in his whole life that anything came before food!  All these years later, all cathedrals are judged by Ely as the standard. It is unique, beautiful, impressive and dominates the surrounding countryside. The famous octagon, the light that lightens the fenland, can be seen many miles away. But why is it here, in the tiny city of Ely? To answer that we need to go back in time.   enshrined in the church on 17 th October 695.  The 7 th century AD was an exciting time. It was a time of the evangelisation of much of what is now the United Kingdom. Families were rent asunder by religious divisions. In the midst of all this, a princess was born in 630AD at Exning near Newmarket. It is a small village now, but then it was home to the court of King Anna of East Anglia. The princess was his daughter, Etheldreda. At some time in the Middle Ages her hand was detached and placed in its own reliquary. This was discovered in 1810 in a priest’s hide in a Sussex farmhouse. It came into the possession of the Duke of Norfolk. He gave it to Mr Harding, his estate agent. In 1867 it passed to Harding’s Granddaughter, Sister Aquinas, a Dominican Religious in Staffordshire.  The young princess was Christian, and when given in marriage to Tondbert, Prince of the Fen Men she received the Isle of Ely (Eels) as her dowry. She had wished to be a Religious, but a royal princess had little choice in the matter of marriage. Her only condition was that she remain a virgin.   Further translations took place in 1106 and 1252, Her shrine in the Cathedral at Ely became one of the most popular pilgrimage places until it was destroyed under Henry VIII in 1541.  Meanwhile back in Ely, the Catholic Church of St Etheldreda was opened in 1903 but not consecrated until 1987. In 1953 the church’s jubilee year, the Parish Priest, Fr Guy Pritchard, secured the important relic of the saint, which was finally returned to Ely. It is now enshrined in a niche behind a glass screen over the font. Adjacent to it is a statue of the saint, crowned as queen and holding the pastoral staff of an abbess. The church is in Egremont Street in Ely and welcomes pilgrims and visitors.  When T he P ortal visited, Fr Tony Shryane, the present Parish Priest, was on hand to show us round.   Her husband died in 655 and she was given in marriage under similar circumstances and conditions to Egfrith, the teenage son of Oswry, King of Northumbria. In later years he wanted to claim full marital rights, but on the advice of Saint Wilfrid of Later on we visited the Cathedral and the site of York, Etheldreda retired to the convent at Coldingham, and in 672 returned to Ely. Egfrith pursued her, but the original shrine. We were met by an old friend of after many adventures and miracles, she claimed her Ronald’s, the Dean, the Very Revd Mark Bonney, who generously met us on his day off. He told us that in dowry once more.  1252 Etheldreda’s body was translated for a second At Ely she founded a double monastery for men time. Fr Mark told us that her shine was placed before and women on the site of the present cathedral. She the High Altar. It is not known what it looked like, but was confirmed Abbess of the whole community. at that time there would have been a screen, then the Etheldreda died on 23 rd June 679 of a tumour on her monastic choir, then a High Altar that incorporated neck. Sixteen years later, her tomb was opened. The the shrine. Pilgrims, it is believed, came in through body was incorrupt and the tumour healed. She was the north door by the chancel and would have been